The solution is not better patronage

Justin Trudeau’s flawed solution to Senate reform

by Aaron Wherry

Justin Trudeau rightly identifies the trouble with an elected Senate.

“I think an elected Senate is a terrible idea,” he said. “If you all of sudden have a legitimate Senate that exercises the full extent of its powers — as opposed to one that understands that it’s less legitimate than the House of Commons because it’s not elected — you’re transforming our system in very, very negative ways.”

Mr. Trudeau’s solution? To maintain the “less legitimate” Senate, but to demand “better” of the people that are appointed.

“It needs to be fixed by demanding better of the people that we choose to appoint to the Senate. That’s the answer for me,” he said after a pep talk late Monday to several hundred Liberal supporters at a pub near Ottawa.

Just as Patrick Brazeau’s current legal troubles can’t justifiably be used to question to the existence of the Senate, neither should “demanding better of the people that we choose to appoint”—although, granted, it’s not clear what “demanding better” would entail—be considered a solution to the problem of justifying the Senate’s existence.

There are good people in the Senate currently. But you could fill the Senate with 105 national treasures (Anne Murray, the 1992-1993 Montreal Canadiens, Mark Carney, etc.) and those 105 individuals could only ever act like dignified, responsible and humble public servants and it still wouldn’t make the Senate a necessary part of our legislative system.

The problem with the Senate isn’t the people, it’s that none of the reasons offered in its defence (it periodically makes a useful change to legislation passed by the House, its committee studies are sometimes more substantive than those held in the House) sufficiently justify maintaining an unelected, second chamber with the power to obstruct legislation passed by the democratically elected House of Commons.

Four provinces maintained second chambers after Confederation in 1867. Two of those legislative councils didn’t last into the 20th century. Nova Scotia abolished its second chamber in 1928. Quebec abolished its legislative council in 1968. (Manitoba joined the country in 1870 and abolished its council six years later.) So far none of the provinces has descended into anarchy or tyranny as a result of their lacking a second chamber.

A democratically elected Senate introduces a different set of problems, but those problems aren’t justification for maintaining an unjustified chamber. The choice shouldn’t be between an elected Senate or an appointed Senate. It should be between an elected Senate (and all the complications that come with that) or no Senate at all. (To clarify: I favour the latter.)




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The solution is not better patronage

  1. This comment was deleted.

    • I think you should clarify that our form of senate “could” have saved Germany (the world?) from Hitler. It’s also quite likely that Hitler would have, like every PM in Canadian history, stacked the Senate with people who would have agreed with him.

      • For once, total agreement Rick.

        • What the odds of both Emily *and* Rick being correct on an issue?

          • It’s that broken clock thing.

        • Wow! Time to -30- this blog. The universe has shifted. It’s the end of history.

        • This comment was deleted.

          • Kay….you have an image to keep up. I understand. LOL

      • You’re technically right about the could — though only technically. The odds of him being able to stack the senate though are extremely miniscule since the time between when he became chancellor and when the “enabling act” passed that gave him total control was only 3 months.

        It’s highly unlikely there would have been enough vacancies occur in the senate to stack it before that legislation hit it.

        Hell, the only reason Harper was able to stack the senate at this point is because Dithers didn’t do his job and appoint senators when the seats became available.

        • A determined Hitler would have bought off (either directly or indirectly), threatened, and/or arranged for “accidents” for these hypothetical senators. He would have gotten what he wanted one way or the other, it just might haven taken a little longer than 3 months.

        • Hate to be forced to agree with Rick, but i think the evidence supports a character like Hitler getting his own way, when you consider it was pretty much what the German people wanted. Would a delaying senate have given the public pause? Maybe. But not likely Hitler. I don’t think you can truly fireproof a democracy against a populous monster like that.

      • Yes, it’s a completely absurd argument. The reality is the senate has been stacked with partisan appointments since Confederation. That means the senate either plays politics with the elected government, or is an ornamental rubber stamp; rarely doing what it’s supposed to.

        Even it’s job as “second sober thought” is superfluous. Commons committees do the exact same thing with MPs elected by the people. That is why provinces don’t need senates or got rid of them.

        So I agree with Wherry: the best option is to get rid of the duplication and deadwood by abolishing the senate.

        All that’s required is simple-majorities in 7 of 10 provinces. If a national referendum got those results, no premier could stand in the way of the inevitable. (It’s not like any would have reason. What has Mike “The Duff” Duffy done for PEI? The province doesn’t even believe he lives there, for God sake.)

    • I think you underestimate Hitler’s determination to have his way. He would have found a means to destroy anybody who obstructed him. But this is all speculation, not really relevant I think.

      • True, he’s the far end of a very large bell curve.
        What remains though, is that a Senate may well have curbed him from being able to attain total power, and if it can do that to such a man as Hitler, then its worth in preventing lesser incursions against us should be fairly evident.

    • I take it all back. We must demand that all the provinces establish their own senates immediately lest they be taken over by Hitler.

      • LOL.

      • And this is why I hesitated going Godwin.. because I knew it opened it up to smart-ass responses that don’t have an ounce of brains being put behind them. I figure you can probably do better. Hell, considering that Rick did, that you didn’t is really disappointing.

        I mean, if you’re actually able to refute my arguments, give me some reason why it’s better to only have people with a short-term outlook in our legislative house, I’d love to hear it.

        The fact that bad things haven’t happened on the provincial level is no argument. Provinces don’t decide criminal code, and provinces *can* be over-ridden by the federal government, which can be over-ridden by the senate. It’s fairly easy to argue that the reason the provinces don’t need one is because we have one at the federal level.

        • But it’s not just about the Senate *possibly* not having a short-term outlook. That’s only one aspect of the Senate, and it ignores the many other failings of the Senate as an institution in a modern liberal democracy.

          • Hey, I agreed up above that there are some changes that should be done, the regional disparity certainly being one of them. Being unaccountable to electors for a long period of time is, in my mind, a feature, not a bug. As that’s what enables senators to take a longer term view.

            Property holder and 30 years old thing are probably anachronistic and should be done away with, but practically I don’t think they have much effect, as most of the people with the breadth and depth of knowledge that would be suitable to have on the senate probably exceed both requirements anyway.

            Senators being appointed and not elected is a huge plus, in my mind. Because, as has been said many times before, to be elected you simply need electability. Hell, in some ridings, you don’t even need that, you just need the favor of the leader of the party (see Anders, Crockatt) to put you up as their chosen candidate. However, there are a lot more people who are not very electable, but would be extremely good to have as senators. Appointments address that issue, and as the appointment is by an elected official, they gain their democratic legitimacy that way. If we didn’t want a certain person appointed, we shouldn’t have elected the one who did it.

            Being appointed by a single person? Well, that’s certainly debatable. I can certainly understand and sympathize with the idea that the House should agree as a whole on who a senator is, whether that be by a simple majority or even a super-majority is detail work. At the same time though, one of the good things about having the appointment be done by a single person is that it makes that single person wear it. As I said, if we didn’t want a certain person appointed, then it falls to us to make sure that the guy who appoints them suffers for it.

        • I apologize that I didn’t treat your “because Hitler” argument with due thought.

          The idea that the Senate is our safeguard against tyranny is an interesting one. I’m not sure it entirely justifies the chamber’s continued existence, but I suppose the possibility of tyranny is always something to consider.

          Let’s say the Senate disappeared tomorrow. What would then stand between us and a theoretical prime minister hellbent on imposing a dictatorship? Well, there would be 307 other MPs. (And theoretically, I suppose, the Governor General.) And 10 provincial legislatures and premiers. And 34 million or so members of the general public.

          The idea that we need an unelected body to mind our democracy relies on the idea that we can’t fully trust democracy. I suppose we can’t ever be sure that democracy won’t turn out badly. And it is generally good to have checks and balances built into the system. But I’m not sure it thus follows that we need to maintain a Senate to make sure nothing terrible happens. At some point, I’d suggest, we have to trust that our democracy is strong enough to handle the responsibility of running the country responsibly. At some point we have to trust that *we* are strong enough to handle the work of governing ourselves.

          I don’t believe the Senate is the last thing standing between us and disaster. Even if it disappeared tomorrow, there would still be many other things standing between us and disaster. If we have faith in those other things, most especially ourselves, than we might comfortably be done with the Senate.

          • Better.

            And yes, it does rely on the idea that we can’t fully trust democracy. I submit to you that this isn’t so far fetched an idea, one merely has to look at our current democratic system. The system is *designed* so that people who choose the short-term good, regardless of the long-term costs or benefits, stand to realize more benefits from it. It’s designed so that those in power have zero incentive to change the system to be more democratic, and considerable incentive to erode democratic ideals where they can get away with it.

            And if you look at our parliament, you’ll see that’s exactly what’s happening. But you don’t even have to look that high. Look at riding associations, such as Calgary Southwest, where when the riding association had gathered enough people to oust Anders, the CPC ousted the association management instead.

            Democracy can’t be fully trusted unless it has people with the ability to protect it. When we give a monopoly on force to the government, the government is the only one who can protect it, so needs safeguards built in.

            Oh, and your numbers are off. First, only 154 other MPs are needed. All of which have their “MPness” dependant upon the party leader at the next election. Yeah.. that’s *sure* to be a great check and balance. 10 provincial legislatures.. which have precisely zero to do with how federal elections are run — or not. And 34 million or so members of the general public. To return to our Godwin example.. Germany in 1933 had over 66 million people, . Boy, that worked a treat, didn’t it? Some other fun comparisons? The Nazis only received 37% of the vote, and actually had a minority government. They had to rely on intimidation and fear to get their legislative changes passed. But hey, trust in democracy. After all, just because the same percentage over here gives a majority government there’s no cause for concern, so no safeguards are needed, right? After all.. here they wouldn’t need to intimidate other party members to get things passed, so that makes it okay.

            However, let’s ditch that extreme example anyway, and return to a much less extreme, though more likely example of MPs governing strictly for short term benefits. Having a senate isn’t any sort of evidence that we don’t trust democracy. If it was, we’d have the GG appoint senators without input from the PM. But we do trust democracy, that’s why we let an elected official choose the senators. What it’s evidence of is simply that we don’t trust elected officials to think long term. And given that the system is designed to discourage long-term thinking, it seems pretty reasonable not to trust it to produce any.

            After all, what is the result if a politician promotes a policy that’s good for the long term though it might mean more challenges in the short term? Go talk to Mr. Dion, he’ll let you know.

            And while the senate can’t make policies that are good for the long term, they at least don’t have anything working against them stopping policies that are bad for the long term future.

            Yes, the current senate is a problem. I suggest to you that was done on purpose by Mr. Harper and doesn’t reflect a systemic problem with the senate as it exists, but rather with our electoral system and ..well.. democracy.

            The phrase isn’t “ignorant masses” for nothing, after all.

          • Wherry, I think we need to fix the Commons before we tinker with the Senate. The Senate is currently a mostly-harmless anachronism. The Commons has been totally hijacked by the executive–we effectively no longer have a legislative branch. The legislature is just window dressing for the implementation of executive power, replete with meat puppets reading scripts and following the detailed commands of snot nosed PMO staffers.

          • sure is a very expensive “babysitter” for just in case the “kids go wild”

      • The provinces don’t need a second chamber.

        But how many unicameral federal states are there on this planet?

        Provinces are not federations.

      • One thing for sure, Hitler aside, we have developed for nearly 150 years with an non-elected senate. What harm has it done Canada? Who can demonstrate that we would have been better off without two chambers, or better off with two elected chambers?

        Hasn’t the elected house done no wrong because it is elected? I don’t think so!

        The biggest problem is, IMO, the bad appointments. The power of the PM to appoint needs to be ‘encadré’.

  2. I agree. Certainly if we had better senators, better MPs, better GGs, better PMs, better everyones….we’d have a better Canada.

    However, human nature being what it is, odds are that PMs will continue on forever appointing people as a reward for services rendered….no matter what they’re like. It’s just that up to now most senators have had the good sense to keep quiet and do standard committee work…..they didn’t run around the country being belligerent and annoying like Duffy and Brazeau and draw attention to themselves.

    But even if all senators were saints….I agree with Wherry that there is no use whatever for a senate.

    It has no power….and we don’t WANT it to have power because then we’ll have gridlock……and without power it’s just a polite clause-chaser. Expensive grammarians. Nit-picky seat-warmers.

    What I find amazing is that some Canadians are so afraid of change that they can’t even contemplate abolishing a body that hasn’t been of the slightest use in 150 years!

    And these are often the very same Canadians that are always calling for less govt, and less spending!

    Nope, if 308 MPs can’t properly decide on how to run this country…..an additional 105 Senators won’t make any difference. Abolish it.

    • Mr. Trudeau could put some meat on the bone – how do we get better people in there? The selection process should be framed in law, with selection committees that use guidelines, and nominations submitted to parliament for a vote. I don’t think we’ve ever had, for example, a justice named to the supreme court that did not study law. The Senate itself should put out requests and job descriptions for senate positions, with requirements that need to be met.

      Also, Senators should not be part of the political caucus(ses?). They should be as neutral as possible.

      • Well voting doesn’t determine any special qualities, or bestow any special grace on people, or give them any special moral authority. Pulling names out of a hat would be just as effective. Voting is just a current fashion.

        ‘Democracy’ has been sold to us as the only way to run a society since we were born…..and ‘having a vote’ has been sold to us as the very definition of democracy.

        But instead of having people that are merely ‘popular’ I’d rather have people who know what they’re doing….and given the job that’s not always easy to find….so to a great extent we have a crap shoot. Appointed or elected, the person chosen may turn out to be a jerk, a complete loss, a seat-warmer…..or a terrific competent person who gets things done. All we can do is hope we get at least a few good ones along with the usual drek.

        The point Wherry is making is that the body itself….the Senate….is a useless one, and I totally agree.

        • Hence my comment that the Senate itself should have a committee to identify the knowledge needs of the senate, and a group of persons, could include rep from province, order of Canada, etc., would find candidates that meet requirements and recommend them – then the HoC would vote.

          How many, and which, federal states are not bicameral?

          • Actually the cabinet could run this country without all the other bodies. It’s neither that difficult nor complicated.

            All we are doing with this is building more govt….not a better country.

          • Well, you could run this country with only a President. Plenty of dictatorships do so. It doesn’t seem that complicated.

          • LOL That’s what Harper is doing now.

          • The HoCs vote should be a free one, no? Good ideas there though.

          • Of course, on a free vote. This is not part of a budget, or a political program. It would have to be a free vote.

      • This would possibly legitimize a Senate in which certain provinces are now and likely forever drastically and undemocratically underrepresented.

      • The best and the brightest in their particular fields might decline the opportunity to experience the decline in income that would attend their appointment to the Senate. Some wouldn’t want the stain on their reputation.

        Groucho Marx: “I wouldn’t join any club that would have me as a member”.

    • “Certainly if we had better senators, better MPs, better GGs, better PMs, better everyones….we’d have a better Canada.”

      pj o’rourke – Authority has always attracted the lowest elements in the human race. All through history, mankind has been bullied by scum. Those who lord it over their fellows and toss commands in every direction and would boss the grass in the meadow about which way to bend in the wind are the most depraved kind of prostitutes. They will submit to any indignity, perform any vile act, do anything to achieve power. The worst off-sloughings of the planet are the ingredients of sovereignty. Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy the whores are us.

      • Well, human beings need leaders and laws….so we need some way of getting them… and preferably good ones

        And so far war lords, kings, popes and elected officials have all worked out about the same….

      • I knew it. You’re TonyAdams in drag!

        • S/he has admitted to being Tony a few times now…

  3. Politics corrupts people, there is no system that will make people ‘better’ public servants. Trudeau is lightweight – who knew the problems with the Senate after decades of caterwauling about Senator behaviour could all be fixed if we had just ‘demanded better’.

    I am betwixt and between about Senate reform. Senate was meant for grandees in UK – aristocracy and Church leaders – and Canada does not have similar society. Canadian panjandrums go in House, or stay out of politics altogether, while Senate is just for knaves and scoundrels. If Senate has moral authority from being elected, ability of Cabinet to pass legislation becomes more difficult, Parliamentary customs would have to be redesigned. I would want to know specific rules about how elected Senate would function.

    Maybe Senate reputation would improve if our pols took it seriously – instead of appointing political people to Senate, what if the Senate was populated by people who are popular in their neighbourhood/town/village. Lots of do-gooders out there who are not rewarded for their good work. Reputation of Senate would improve if better quality of person was appointed.

  4. I’m with Thwim (great post by the way) and not Aaron. Senate reform (vs abolition) has been around longer than Pat Brazeau and his troubles; he is a symbol of harper’s disregard for the Senate more than anything. Harper seems to have wanted to appoint partisan celebrities who grew up somewhere else, but became famous once they left home. This seems to have been in blatant disregard of the longstanding residential qualifications — of course Pamela Wallin does not live in Wadena; of course Mike Duffy does not live in Cavendish. No witch hunt should be necessary — we all know they don’t live there, but were born and raised there.

    Anyway, Aaron, it seems naive and reckless to say abolish the Senate without discussing how that could happen. Personally, I am with James Cowan and don’t think the Senate is any more broken than the House of Commons. Shit is happening because the prime minister wants it to, and because of his preference for appointing based on extreme partisanship instead of accomplishment. Why throw the baby out with the bathwater instead of recognizing and fixing the problems?

    • Yes, Stephen Harper invented the concept of making partisan appointments to the Senate. This never happened at all, ever, before Harper came along.
      I’m not making this up.

      • Why don’t you make an argument for Harper’s piece meal, i can fix it by making it even sicker, approach? Rather than simply trotting out your by now tiresome spiel…oh Really! Are you saying SH invented original political sin. Everyone here knows you can do better.

      • Is puerile sarcasm always your default mode?

        • On rare occasion he deigns to actually add to the conversation, rather than simply try to subtract from it.

          When he does, he can be fairly insightful.

          What’s sad is simply how rare it is.

      • Like a lot of things, he has promised better and you can make a strong case he delivered worse. The real danger from his reign is that after being so successful for so many years, his kind of behaviour might become “the new normal”

    • I really don’t see how anyone can say the Senate is no more broken than the HoC.

      The senate is an affront to democratic values.

      - Western provinces are drastically underrepresented due to the artificial notion of “regions”. E.g., BC with 6 times the population of NB has fewer senators than NB. There is absolutely no legitimate rationalization for this.

      - Senators are appointed by one man, the PM, as opposed to HoC MPs who are sent to Ottawa by the constituents of their riding

      - Senators are appointed until age 75 and are thus entirely unaccountable for their performance for possibly decades. Contrast with MPs who must face their electorate every 5 years at most.

      - Senators must be “property owners”. So renters are excluded from being Senators. What do you think would be the response if someone said that to be a MP, one must be a property owner?

      - Senators must be at least 30 years old. Again, contrast with the HoC, which has no such restriction.

      IMO there is no defence for the Senate in it’s current form. If the Senate was being created today from scratch not one of the above points would form part of this hypothetical modern day Senate for the simple reason that they’re based on antiquated notions that have no relevance to a modern day liberal democracy.

    • The senate has been corrupted with partisan appointments since Confederation. Harper is just doing what every PM before him did.

      Getting rid of the senate requires a constitutional amendment. That requires a simple-majority in two-thirds of the provinces (the 7/50 formula.) If a national referendum gets those kind of results, no premier would be able to stand in the way of democracy. The senate’s fate would be sealed.

      Mulroney’s constitutional muddling failed because it consisted of sweeping changes that everyone wanted a say in, and no one could agree with. A single-issue constitutional amendment is a different story altogether. Mulroney didn’t screw up the process eternally, despite what some pundits say. That was over 20 years ago; time to move on.

      List of Canadian Senate appointments by prime minister
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Canadian_Senate_appointments_by_prime_minister

  5. In the House of Commons we’ve been seesawing back and forth from Liberal to Conservative for our entire history in Canada based on promises that one party will be better people than the other party that has so disappointed us. The NDP has been promising similarly.

    Electing Senators would just be more of the same at best, but so will this wishful thinking that someday our prince will come. What we need is real election reform, but Trudeau the Lesser doesn’t seem to be proposing that either.

    • Not true. Trudeau proposes Preferential Voting electoral reform. This will stop voting splitting and prevent minority parties (like Harper’s) from getting unfettered power. Then Commons committees could do all the work of “second sober thought” without corrupt partisan interference. (They do most of the heavy lifting now; the senate is an ornamental rubber stamp: expensive and useless.)

      • My mistake. I didn’t know that, have mostly heard generalities from him. Thx

        • So far Trudeau has come out with a democratic reform platform that includes PV electoral reform:

          1. Open Nominations
          2. Loosen the Grip of the Prime Minister’s Office on Parliament
          3. Enact Electoral Reform
          4. Ban Partisan Government Advertising
          5. Embrace Evidence-Based Scrutiny (independent, third-party oversight)

          https://justin.ca/democratic-reform-trusting-canadians/

    • At least he’s spoken up for PV. Depending on who you talk to that could be a good first step toward PR. I don’t think it is possible to get enough of a consensus in the country for straight out PR. Although if Harper is still there in ’15 we may yet get a consensus for real relectoral reform.

      • Somewhat off topic, but given the experience in BC, where a switch to the BC-STV was defeated in a referendum, I suspect that *only* PV would have a chance at being adopted. I believe Ontario also voted against change when offered PR (it was PR, right?).

        IMO PV has a chance because it can be viewed as a positive evolution of the current system; whereas PR and, to a lesser extent, BC-STV are just too different from FPTP.

        • STV lost twice in BC and another PR attempt failed in the maritimers somewhere. I agree, PV first if anything.

          • Yes, PR lost twice in BC, once in ON and PEI. PR ideologues from Fair Vote Canada are largely Green and NDP supporters, which means they are in it for the long haul waiting one day for the revolution to come.

            The most practical approach is to make our existing system democratic with PV, which is the same system all federal parties use to elect their leaders. (Unfortunately, FVC ideologues have taken the lame political position of waging a war on PV, absurdly claiming it’s worse than FPTP. They are of no use in helping bring electoral reform to Canada.)

  6. Of course Trudeau believes the only problem with the senate is that there aren’t enough Liberal appointed senators. This is the kind of “change” he’s been promoting the entire time. Nothing substantive, just painting everything Liberal red again. But of course all the coverage of the Senate’s recent troubles are conveniently ignoring the fact that Liberal senator Raymond Lavigne was convicted of fraud and breach of trust. Do we really need more guys like him?!

    • The standard Conservative response to every complaint against their party — the other guys did it too. Maybe the media are ignoring Senator Lavigne because they gave extensive coverage to him when his misdeeds were newsworthy. Do we really need to dredge up every past scandal whenever a new one comes along, to show balance? For that matter, the media have also been ignoring the Canadian Pacific scandal. And the Trans Canada pipeline scandal.

      • Every PM since Confederation has stacked the senate. Harper is no better than any of them. Harper is not the first to renege on reform either. Mulroney scored a knock-out punch in the leaders debate against Turner in 1984 because Turner had the audacity to appoint 3 Liberal senators. (Oh, the corruption!) Mulroney went on to appoint 55 of 57 PC senators…

        List of Canadian Senate appointments by prime minister
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Canadian_Senate_appointments_by_prime_minister

        • Interestingly, eight PMs, including Harper, never appointed senators from the official opposition, all eight were/are Conservatives.

        • I agree almost entirely with your comment, though it should be pointed out that Harper hasn’t “reneged” on reform. He’s had some hurdles, for sure. But the fact that he’s presently consulting the SCOC on senate reform should make it clear that “renege” doesn’t accurately define the circumstances.

          • Harper promised to end patronage appointments and become one of the worst offenders. Instead of stacking the senate, he polluted it with relatively young Con hacks like Brazeau to ensure a Con majority well into the future.

      • First of all, the criticisms of the Senate shouldn’t be a partisan issue. If we’re going to reform our democracy, it shouldn’t be to benefit any one party. Of course partisans will argue in favour of changes that would be beneficial to their party, but that’s the nature of partisans.

        But my point was that the Senate in it’s current form has always been like it is, no matter which party the PM belonged to, and there seems to be a growing consensus that it needs to be reformed. Trudeau’s suggested reform is to go back to appointing “better senators”. Do you really think that any PM has been appointing Senators they thought were worse than the ones currently sitting in there? Of course not.

        And as for the “scandal” coverage: the media’s been having a field day making this out to be all about senators appointed by Harper, when in fact there’s a Liberal under investigation currently as well, and failing to mention the fact that the last senator convicted of a criminal offense was, in fact, a Liberal leads to conclusions such as Trudeau’s that we just need “better” senators.

    • Abolish the senate. It is all duplication and deadwood. Anything the senate can do, Commons committees can do better — and with elected MPs that represent voters, not the PM who appointed them.

      Time to put MPs to work and all the failed politicians stinking up the hallowed halls of the “upper chamber” out of their current occupation of freeloading off of taxpayers.

      Tell Justin you want him to abolish the senate:

      Abolish the Senate: Soapbox
      http://justin.ca/soapbox/?idea=288

      • So tell me Ron, why is it better to only have people in our legislative house whose jobs depend on ignoring the long-term in favor of the short-term?

        • The senate is corrupted by partisan influence. It offers no assurances either in the short term or the long term.

          Take for instance, when Liberals senators obstructed the passage of the Free Trade Agreement and the GST. In the short term, the Liberals were playing politics with controversial policies. In the long term, the vast majority of Liberals today support both the FTA and the GST.

          So the evidence strongly suggests the senate does little, if anything, of worth. The provinces certainly aren’t looking into creating senates to improve government. It’s simply a relic of aristocracy.

          • And had I asked if our senators are perfect, that might have been an interesting response.

            What’s your answer to the actual question?

          • I answered your question by challenging it’s premise. I pointed out that senators are motivated by partisan politics and have no long term vision or direction.

            I think senate supporters are grasping at straws. This is because humans inherently cling to institutions and find the idea of abolishing them abhorrent and radical. But the fact is the senate has been corrupt from the start. The “upper house” was put in place to keep a lid on democracy. The upper class (represented by businessmen) don’t even use the senate anymore. They have found other ways to exert influence over democracy more effectively.

          • No, you didn’t. You avoided the question entirely. Let me repeat:

            “Why is it better to only have people in our legislative house whose jobs depend on ignoring the long-term in favor of the short-term?”

            This doesn’t ask about senators. It doesn’t ask about corruption. It asks about the system. The system we have in place, without the senate, specifically rewards short-term thinking, and *punishes* long term concerns.

            Yet for some reason, you think that’s a better system. Why is that? Even if I give you all of your points and say that the senate is totally corrupt and expensive (it isn’t, and not really), that still doesn’t answer the question of why it’s better to have a short-term focussed system. You obviously have some sort of answer for that, so what is it?

      • I insist we fix the Commons before we consider abolishing the Senate. It is essentially broken, functioning as an extension of the executive, with MPs being used as meat puppets marching to PMO orders.

        • A great way to fix the Commons is with Preferential Voting (which is something the Liberals support.) This ensures MPs earn their seats with a majority and actually represent their constituents. It stops vote splitting and prevents minority parties from getting unfettered power. This will put an end to “benign dictatorships” (Harper) and all the power being concentrated at the top.

          With PV, Commons committees will be able to expose bad legislation, break up omnibus bills, make amendments, etc. without any partisan interference from a minority party with majority power.

          I think senate supporters have institutionitis. It’s human nature to cling to institutions and believe it radical to abolish them. I used to support a better appointment process and short term limits. But now I think the senate was a mistake right from the start.

      • Commons committees vs. Senate committees is a mute point. Their roles, constitutionally, are different, separate and intentionally so. Though I completely agree that the both sides (more so the senate) could start doing their jobs better.

        Also must admit, I do enjoy seeing a paid NDP troll posting links to Junior’s website :) If I were in the social media marketing business, I’d have a job opportunity for you!

        • I’m a non-partisan centrist. I doubt any NDP partisan would be involved in Justin’s bid for leadership. Only a boorish conservative would consider someone at a different part of the political spectrum a “troll.”

          BTW, I think most Canadians would find Trudeau Sr. and Trudeau Jr. vastly preferable as national leaders to Bush Sr. and Bush Jr.

          • If you’re a non-partisan centrist, then I’m a purple dinosaur.

          • Or just as bright as that babbling TV dinosaur… Do you even know what non-partisan means? Do you know how the left-right economic spectrum is defined?

    • Yeah sure Rick. Let’s totally ignore the fact that his dad and BM found a way to appoint both conservative & liberal senators between rewarding their own. Harper to date -zilch. Nothing but bunnies for the cause. Face it you haven’t a clue what JT would do as PM. As usual you’re simply projecting your own partisan vitriol over everything not blue.

      • Ya sure, kcm2. Let’s totally ignore the fact that I do know exactly what Junior would do as PM regarding senators. Because he said so. He would continue the status quo, with the exception of appointing “better” senators. Go ask any NHL GM which squad is the “better” team. Ask any car salesman which company makes the “better” car. Ask any construction contractor who the “better” builder is. The answer will invariably be the one that they are connected to.

        If Harper appointed a token Liberal to the senate, would you be pacified at that point? Or perhaps the next Senate appointments should be required to take out LPC memberships just to balance a ledger in certain partisan minds? In the instances of Duffy, Walin, and Brazeau, do you actually believe they were hardcore life long card carrying members of the CPC, or more likely held some semi-celebrity status among certain segments of Canadian society, saw eye-to-eye with the PM on Senate reform, and were thus, like every other Senate appointee before them, considered to be politically palatable?

        • So, no then Harper hasn’t appointed anyone who is clearly not a conservative, unlike every PM before him. How on earth you get from Trudeau saying he would put ( he hasn’t actually said if he would change the appointment process. My guess is he would.) a better type of individual into the senate, to you know it would be liberal is beyond me. But then many of your opinions are.

          • I think the intellectual depth of this conversation is beyond you.

  7. It isn’t that often that Aaron sorta misses the point. But i think he have here. If we did want to keep the senate a sober second house, then we should address [along with the other nagging problems of equality and how legitimate to make it] the 800lb PM in the room. The fact is that all of our PMs have abused their privilege to appoint worthy Canadians by appointing far too many hacks and deadwood. That is hardly the fault of the institution is it? Let’s take that power or temptation out of the PM’s hands first eh!
    And Harper has completely blown his opportunity to be a reformer by cynically concluding that the best way to get change is too stack it with even more dross – wow! Who could have seen a possible hitch in that programme? So 5 years on after trying to turn the place into a full fledged brothel when it had been more of a doddering retirement home for shagged out political bagmen, we see his choice has born fruit…surprisingly some of it is rotten. And saddest of all some very dedicated senators[ a majority surely] who took their duties seriously all along, now are in danger of going under the Harper omni[bus] as well. That is the worst of Harper’s approach. Not that the place didn’t need reforming/modernizing, but in the “process” he has succeeded not just in hi- lighting it as a shabby, moth eaten anachronism; but he has trampled all over the reputations of those who did put in the effort, in his eagerness to build a house that would never again threaten his precious AB with nasty central Canadian socialist confiscation schemes. But Harper is out of date. The west is in and needs no such checks on eastern duplicity. If anything it’s the rest of us who need some more protection from him.
    It could be said we and the senate have been forced to suffer the the consequences of an obsessional, historical paranoia, of one man and his faithful followers; and their grudge match with central Canada.
    The appointment process needs modernizing and democratizing Mr W. Let’s get us get some air in the place before we decide to call in the demo guys.

    • “So 5 years on after trying turning the place into a full fledged brothel …”

      And immediately “Caligula” springs to mind :-)

      • Who gets to play the horse?

  8. I am still curious – can you give me the name of a federal state in the world that is unicameral? I would like to read up on it.

  9. Here’s my problem – according to Jeffrey Simpson today, “Every federation has an upper chamber, most of them more effective and legitimate….” –

    So every federation has an upper chamber…. Why? More importantly if it’s true, why would a federation as vast and decentralized as Canada, with two official linguistic groups want to become the first federation on the planet not to have two chambers of parliament? Why do we want to tamper with this? Are we that far behind as a democratic society?

    It seems to me that the biggest problem of the Senate has always, since 1867, been sitting center front-row in the HoC. Before we decide to become a guinea pig for the rest of the planet, could we not try to fix the problem that we all know?

    • Um….scuse me, but not having something others have doesn’t indicate we are ‘behind’.

      It means we are ahead.

      • We now have what others have – an upper chamber. How do we know we would be ahead without one? Because EmilyOne sees it in a crystal ball? You need more than oneliners, EmilyOne, to convince me of the advantages of becoming the first unicameral federal state on this planet. Though your answer explains very well why you think smart people can’ win in politics.

        • How be we try thnking sensibly instead of just trying to be like the neighbours?

          When did Canadians get to be such conformists?

          In any case there are other countries with only one legislature so you’d be quite safe…..

          I don’t have to convince you of anything, It’s your mind that’s the prison, and only you can free it.

          • If my mind is a prison, yours is evidently a vacuum. In your argument you choose to be blind on an undeniable fact : Canada is a federal state, one of the, if not the, largest and most decentralized on the planet. And there are no federal states on earth that are not bicameral, or at least so writes Jeffrey Simpson. If he’s wrong name me the federal state that is unicameral.

            We can get creative, but your creativity at this point sounds more like that of a not too honest accountant.

            2013/2/14 Disqus

          • Actually lots of countries have one legislature….Denmark, New Zealand, Sweden, Finland etc

            It isn’t set in cement you know. We can govern ourselves anyway we choose.

  10. LOL Wow! Thwim pulls a Godwin and gets away with it. EmilyOne agrees with Rick Omen. It’s like proof that the Higgs-Boson really does exist.

    IMHO, this piece and esecially this comments discussion rank as one of the best ever on Macleans.ca. +1 Star. Bravo to all posting before me. This has been a remarkable and civil politcial debate.

  11. Thwim, has it correct. YOu need a chamber that is reformed not the elimination of the upper chamber. YOU HAVE TO REMEMBER THAT IN CANADA OUR MPS DO NOT SPEAK FOR CONSTITUENTS – THEY ARE BEHOLDEN TO THE PARTY LEADER. OUR COUNTRY IS GOVERNED BY A SMALL GROUP IN THE PMO’S OFFICE. DO WE REALLY WANT TO ELIMINATE ANY VESTIGE OF CHECKS ON SUCH A FLAWED SYSTEM? Changing such flaws won’t happen before you have a reformed Senate, if ever!

    Many people in Canada don’t understand the concept of “tyranny by the majority.” IN any governing system ruled by population, those regions with greater population will run roughshod over those in less populated areas – AS MCGUINTY’S POLICIES IN ONTARIO HAVE SHOWN TO BE THE CASE! A geographically equal upper chamber would provide the checks required for the lower chamber that is based on population. THIS IS HOW TRUE BICAMERALISM WORKS!

    Many Canadians are sold false goods on how their democracy operates and how it should operate by the slanted media and very self-interested politicians such as the NDP who advocate the abolition of the Senate simply because they don’t want an upper chamber stacked with Liberals and Conservatives checking their power should they rule the House of Commons.

    As for the provinces checking the power of the Feds, you have to remember that there is division of responsibilities and the Feds have total control over certain areas that can negatively impact individual provinces – such as E.I. , military policy, crime policy, etc. Therefore, such an argument does not hold.
    An elected Senate is being sold as a system of guaranteed gridlock. THIS IS ALSO FALSE. Critics use the U.S Senate as an example but they don’t understand that the U.S Senate ABUSES a super-majority and filibuster requiring 60% of the Senate to vote in favour of legislation to pass. Such rules were not intended for everyday business in the Senate but intended for ultra major issues such as impeaching the President! In any case, such rules are being amended by the U.S Senate under Harry Reid. As well, AUSTRALIA HAS A TRIPLE-E SENATE THAT WORKS EXTREMELY WELL AS A SIMPLE MAJORITY PASSES LEGISLATION AND THE PRIME MINISTER CAN OVERCOME SENATE VETO BY CALLING FOR JOINT SITTINGS OF BOTH HOUSES TO PASS LEGISLATION AND IF THAT DOESN’T WORK SHE CAN CALL FOR A FULL ELECTIONS OF BOTH HOUSES. Amazingly, but such rules in Australia allow for great compromise – IMAGINE THAT! And oh… Australia uses a system of proportional representation (ranked ballots) to elect their Senators, which is something the left-wing in Canada has been advocating for a long, long time.
    The SENATE MUST BE REFORMED VIA THE AUSTRALIAN MODEL, VIA CONSITUTIONAL AMENDMENT. Any other change or lack of change, is dangerous for Canadian democracy going forward.

  12. Abolish the Senate for sure , it has become a Publically Funded bipartisan refuge for both Liberal and Conservative fund raisers and campaigners for their respective political masters. The Senators originally were supposed to be representatives of their Provinces. However, many have not resided in the part of the country they are supposed to be representing for years. The two media personality’s Mike Duffy and Pamela Walden were appointed by Harper to try to put a presentable face on his Conservative party. They are just two examples of Non Resident Senators that have not resided in their respective geographic areas of responsibility for decades and are milking the system for themselves.

    Not to mention the many other scandals and other devious political maneuvering’s that have discredit this place for appointed political hacks. Such as Mulroney’s GST senators and Harper 50 plus senators that he swore he would not appoint.
    Both the Liberals and Conservative`s will fight to preserve this Publically Funded cash cow that is only been used for bipartisan purposes.
    Lets get rid of this albatross and start holding our elected MP`s to account for what happens in Ottawa without this smoke screen of a politically appointed senate.
    An elected Senate would be a waste of money and Province wide campaigns, could only be won with political party support and we would end up with the best Senate money can buy.
    Which is what we have now.
    Look at the mess they have in the US with the two house system and you will see the future of Canada unless we Abolish this totally unnecessary waste of time,money and frustration.

  13. It should be between an elected Senate (and all the complications that come with that) or no Senate at all. (To clarify: I favour the latter.)

    Fine. The First Ministers’ Conference to hammer out that constitutional amendment can be held in your living room.

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